Yesterday (10th September) the Prime Minister set out plans to reform our education system.
She was very clear about what she wants to achieve: she wants to make Britain the world’s great meritocracy - a place where it is your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born.
To make that dream a reality, we need to ensure that there’s a good school place for every child and one that caters to their individual needs. We’ve made good progress in recent years. Thanks to a combination of Government reforms and the dedication of the teaching profession 1.4 million more children now attend a good or outstanding school than in 2010. But there are a few areas where the Prime Minister would like to go further.
First, she wants to remove the obstacles that stop more good faith schools from opening.
Second, she wants our universities to get involved in sponsoring existing state schools or opening new ones.
Third, she wants to get private schools to use their expertise and resources to help improve state schools. She’s looking at imposing a tougher test on the charities that operate them in terms of the public benefit they need to be able to demonstrate in order to maintain charitable status.
And fourth, she wants to relax the restrictions on new grammar schools. This has inevitably attracted the most attention - grammar schools arouse strong passions on both sides of the argument. Some people object in principle to selection by ability, but bright children with wealthy parents can attend private selective schools so why shouldn’t equally bright children from less well-off backgrounds have the same opportunities? The truth is we already have selection in the state system, but it is selection by geography - whether your parents can afford to live in an area. I've never understood why some on the left think that is fairer than selection by ability.
Others point to evidence that grammar school pupils tend to come from more affluent backgrounds. They don’t object to selection in principle but worry that, in practice, having more grammar schools will make Britain less meritocratic, not more. The PM has specifically sought to address that concern. Grammar schools would have to demonstrate that they were helping pupils from less affluent backgrounds by taking a proportion of their pupils from less affluent backgrounds, establishing a feeder school in a less well-off part of their catchment area or running a good, non-selective school.
Some question whether it is fair to select children when they are just 11 years old. I have some sympathy with this view, so I am glad to see the PM wants a more flexible system where young people who develop later could transfer to a grammar school at 14 or 16.
Finally some people say that our comprehensive system in Croydon delivers better results than the selective system in Kent. That's true, but no-one is suggesting we return to the 11+ with every child going to a grammar or secondary modern. What I’d like is what they have in neighbouring Sutton - a handful of grammar schools for those who wants that type of education, alongside a mix of other schools. And that system delivers better outcomes then we get in Croydon.
So I think this is a welcome reform and, if the law is changed, I hope we’ll see one or two grammar schools in Croydon, but we shouldn’t let this issue - which arouses such strong emotions - dominate the debate about how we ensure all our children get to go to a good school and hence get the chance to realise their potential.